Waiting For Things To Change

“One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath.”  – John 5:5-9.

Thirty-eight years is a long time to sit on your mat. Every day is the same. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Sitting on his mat has become a way of life for the man in John 5. He sits by a pool where people with diseases and disabilities wait for the troubling of the waters, because healings happen in this pool. People believed that an angel of the Lord would come and stir the waters, and that whoever was the first to enter the pool after the waters were stirred would be healed of his or her malady. The problem is his circumstances: he can’t get off his mat to be the first one in the pool. So he sits there and thinks, “As soon as the water bubbles then I will get up off my mat. As soon as I get to the water my life will be better. As soon as I get into the water my problems will be fixed.”

At one time or another, and in one severity of another, we all face a pool of Bethesda; that time when we are convinced that our life is nothing more than our circumstances. So we wait for our circumstances to change. As soon as I get that job, life will be better. As soon as my husband changes his attitude my life will be better. As soon as I get to retire, life will be better.   

There are many “as soon as” possibilities that people are dealing with. But while dealing with them, life has been put on hold and we sit on our mat. That is not to suggest that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant or have no effect. That’s just not true. They do affect us. People are coping with difficult circumstances daily. We are, however, more than the circumstances of our life. Life is not to be found outside our various situations or circumstances but within them. it is not our circumstances that define our reality. Rather, it is the truth of Christ’s love and life in us.  

Jesus does not help the man get into the water. He comes to him on his mat, the same mat and situation the man so wants to escape, and says, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Jesus doesn’t change our outer circumstances. He changes us. He calls us into a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking, thinking. We discover the circumstances have somehow changed. That doesn’t necessarily make life easy or mean we no longer have to deal with the circumstances of life. It makes our circumstances more manageable and we engage them from a different place and position.

The life Jesus offers us does not happen “as soon as ….” It happens today in our circumstances. We simply need to trust God,  “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a “as soon as “ circumstance? If so how is it affecting your life? 
  2. Why is it important to remember that God is at work, even in the midst of our circumstances?  

What Does God Think Of Us?

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Have you ever had someone say. . . “I’ve been thinking about you?” While we assume those thoughts are good. . .we have no idea what they’re thinking or how long they thought about us. We spend a lot of time thinking about what others think of us. But how much time do we spend thinking about what God thinks about us? Just for a moment, let’s consider what God is thinking when He is thinking of you.  Is He disappointed or maybe even angry over some of your choices? Does He roll His eyes at the mention of your name? Does He smile when He looks down on you?

In order for that to be a productive exercise, we need to know what God said about us. In fact, when you strip all the noise away, it’s knowing and believing what your Heavenly Father says about you that matters most. The question defines the way we view ourselves, the way we interact with others, and the way we live on a daily basis.  

Too often our view or perception of how God thinks about us is all wrong. That’s because society’s ideas about God are wrong. Too often we think that God is like the worst of ourselves: someone who is harsh and judgmental, unforgiving, and just looking for excuses to punish and torment us. But that isn’t who God is at all. There is a proper response to all of this. As God thinks of you, think of Him. 

God has a lot to say about what He thinks about us — a whole Bible full. Verse after verse which spoke powerfully about what God thinks about you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) You are the salt and light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-14) You are complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10) You are loved with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3) God takes great delight in you and sings over you. (Zephaniah 3:17) You are forgiven and redeemed. (Ephesians 1:7) You are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27) You are chosen, holy, and dearly loved. (Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 1:4) You are worth fighting for. (Exodus 14:14) God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) to name a few.

We know God didn’t have to love us, God chose to love us. It wasn’t an obligation; it is a joy and delight.  Believers have value and worth not because they are something special in themselves, but because Christ has died in their place. We matter to Him. He loves us. He is delighted to call us His own. 

When you think about you….does your thinking match His? It should.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are we more concerned about what people think about you then what God thinks? 
  2. Should we look down on ourselves when we consider how God thinks of us? 
  3. What would you change this week knowing how God thinks of you?  

Old Testament vs. New Testament

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” – Romans 7:21-25.

Throughout the year, many people join in on a Bible reading plan. Reading through the Bible in one year is a great idea for so many reasons.  It’s challenging, but not impossible. And it builds a positive habit and gives you a deeper understanding of faith and church history. But once the exciting days of Genesis and Exodus are behind you, you’ll find yourself moving into Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. “Oh man,” you might start thinking, “I don’t know if this was such a good idea” as you read stories of battles—horrible battles—and lots of stories of death and killing and the earth swallowing up families in the Old Testament.

For many Christians, this is a little disturbing to read considering what we know of the God of mercy and love that we read about in the New Testament. 

The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is in the way God dealt with sin. When God commanded the Israeli army to eliminate the people of Jericho, for example, He was dealing with the people’s sin. And sin, whether in the Old or New Testament, deserves death. So how do we account for responses that are so different in the Old and New Testaments? How can we understand these harsh judgments written about in ancient times?

The answer is Jesus. The Old Testament and New Testament are unified in God’s overall revelation to us. They are distinctly separated by the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The New Testament is all about Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins. Jesus died on the cross – in our place, for our sins. You see, the consequence of sin is the same. It is always death. The difference is Jesus, taking our place. And when we choose to believe in Jesus Christ, God cleanses us of our past, our baggage, our mistakes, and our sins.

God is the same. His judgment of sin is the same – but thanks to Jesus, God gives us a way to be forgiven from our sins and live a fulfilling life. A life lived to the fullest is a life that is characterized by being in relationship with Jesus, because He is the definition of life.  John 14:6 says, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about the Old Testament versus the New Testament?  

Our Personal Vision

“A common vision can unite people of very different temperaments.” – Tim Keller

Most church and business websites include mission and vision statements.  They help us understand their purpose and why they do what they do.  For example, at Northstar our vision and passion haven’t changed over the past two decades: we still exist to “help the whole world find and follow Jesus.” But we also believe that God has a personal mission for individuals, not just organizations.

God created you with a personal mission to fulfill during this life. Ephesians 2:10 tells us about this divine design. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” He lives in you to love you and live through you to fulfill His purpose for your life.

In the first part of Proverbs 29:18, we find a familiar portion of Scripture. Most people are familiar with the King James Version (KJV): “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” The translation in the NLT gives us insight as to why people with no vision perish: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…” In other words, where there is no vision, no direction from God, people will “do their own thing” and “go their own way,” which often does not go well. 

Vision requires asking some tough questions: Do we as Christians have a sense of vision? Do we have a God-given dream? De we believe God is directing us? Leading us? We need the answers to those questions because we need God’s direction for our lives.

The idea of having a plan for the future makes perfect sense. But developing that plan sounds like the province of a corporate think tank.  But is it really that complicated? We can simplify it by looking at our lives and asking what changes do we need to make going forward that we live our life so radically different that we are seen as people who are living their life “on mission” for Jesus Christ.  

Think about it this way: what would your life be like if you were not afraid to believe God and your faith reflected that? What if you believed God’s promises? How different would you view your vision of the future? Would you dare to dream bigger dreams? The Bible says,  “God . . . is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20 TLB). God is capable of the impossible, but it begins with a vision.  

Ask God, “What do you want me to do? How do you want me to do it? And when do you want me to do it?” Pray and ask God to bless what you are doing. Pray and ask God to begin experiencing Christ more intimately.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How long has it been, if ever, since you asked God, “How am I doing?” What might be some of the ways God would use in your life to answer that question?
  2. How can a personal vision help you to know Christ and to know and experience His power and direction for your life? 

Casting The Vision

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” –
Luke 4:18-19.

 In August of 1964, under the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his enormously powerful “I have a dream” speech. It focused people. It inspired people. It served as a seedbed of social change. His dream has fueled a thousand other dreams and many of those dreams have become a reality. This is the power of vision. Every movement begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents and helps create the future.

The church needs a vision as well. The goal of a vision is to get the church on God’s program and off their own. God already has a plan for every church. He is not confused about where your church should go in the next 5 or 10 years. The focus on vision disciplines us to think strategically. The vision is the framework for leading the journey. We want a vision for your church that brings meaning, momentum, fruit, and spiritual growth? It’s possible – and likely – for you to see those things when the church is united behind a compelling vision. It’s worth figuring out because God has great plans for you.

Our vision is to be real in our love for God and real in our love for others. A church that depends on the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. A church that connects, inspires and motivates people to mature in God. A church that connects people in doing life together. We also want to be a church that welcomes, accepts, and loves all people knowing God has great plans for every person. A church that effectively communicates the life-changing message of Jesus. Our vision is to be a church committed to continually doing whatever it takes to impact the community and world. A church that never tires of seeking the lost and building disciples. 

Catching the vision is ultimately more important than casting the vision. To catch the vision is to be aligned with the vision. To do that, we must take it from the hypothetical to the real. This can’t be accomplished by simply writing down the vision. It must be put into action. To do that we must all have a common purpose in capturing, defining, and implementing the vision. The crucial last step is to take action: “what does God want from us right now, right here? Or what must we do right now in order to best achieve and fulfill our God-given vision?”To bring about significant change requires each of us to own the vision.

Vision can be inspiring and be energizing but ultimately vision must filter down to what people do differently because of the vision.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What goes into a successful vision in your mind?
  2. What gifts/skills do you have that will contribute to achieving our vision?
  3. How can we overcome our fears and reluctance in getting engaged?
  4. Pray and ask God to show you where you should be engaged in the vision. 

Jesus Is Our Peace

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” – Isaiah 26:3

Peace and contentment. What does it mean? Merriam Webster defines peace as, “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions,” and contentment as, “the quality or state of being contented (feeling or showing satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation).” Words such as still, quiet, calm, happy, pleased, and satisfied might be used to describe feelings of peace and contentment.

It’s no secret that in today’s world, there are so many things that can put stress on us: pressures from school or work, or emotional events such as a death in the family or a divorce. We may have fears about our health. We may worry about our finances. Anyone or more of these can lead to anxiety, excessive worry, and fatigue. 

Peace is a commodity that can only be found with time spent seeking the face of God. The world can’t offer us peace because it has nothing in which to place its hope, trust, and security. Kingdoms come and go. Leaders move in and out of power. What culture values today can change tomorrow. The one constant is God. He longs to offer total and sustained peace to all who place their hope and trust in Him.

The Bible talks about peace a lot. First, from the Old Testament: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Then, from the New Testament: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Our God has peace in store for us in every situation if we will choose to keep our mind stayed on Him and trust Him. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.. . . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:1-3, 5). God longs to prepare a table for you in the midst of whatever trouble surrounds you. He is calling you to keep your mind stayed on Him no matter what lies before you. And He is asking you to seek His face and find your rest in Him rather than trying to find peace in the things of the world.  

Discussion questions:

  1. How would you try to describe the peace of God if someone asked you to?
  2. Have you ever felt a peace in the middle of a turbulent time that did not make sense to others or a peace that surprised even you?

The Road To Success

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

What does success look like? It can look like any number of things.  So often we elevate people in our minds simply because we know they do well in their careers. We need to dig a little deeper because money doesn’t define a person’s life. A person’s financial success, or their prestige, does not tell us anything other than the individual knows how to make money.  The goal is not to criticize those who have been blessed with much but to allow the Holy Spirit to redefine what we believe is the measure of success.

God’s standard for success is quite different. Unimpressed by our status or wealth, He looks instead for faithfulness to His will. In God’s eyes, success means discovering His will for your life and using that purpose for His glory, rather than your own.  

Paul understood that principle and diligently pursued his calling.  But judging from 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, you would hardly view him as being successful. “I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”

But none of those things deterred him from obeying God’s will. His final testimony was, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7).  Jesus teaches us that success is about seeking first God’s kingdom while allowing God to provide for the rest: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33). Success then is walking with God and experiencing the joy of His presence in your life. In each situation, you can confidently give your best efforts and trust the results to Him.  

Examine your personal definition of success on a spiritual level. If God has called you to do something, to be someone, are you obeying? God’s definition of success is obedience.

Discussion questions:

  1. How have you defined success throughout your life? In what ways has God equipped you to be successful?
  2. What do you think will happen when you’re able to let go of the world’s idea of success and instead embrace what the Bible says about success?

Small Group Discipleship

“Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. 2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others – 2 Timothy 2:1-2.

“ My life would be so different without my small group. It’s the tool God used to make me into the person I am today, a person who seeks to know Him even better.”   

Those sentiments have been reiterated dozens of times by different people who have grown in the knowledge, grace, and love of God through small group participation. Churches do not grow through big, flashy programs and advertisements. Instead, churches depend on the engagement of every member in their workplaces and neighborhoods, in the market, and around the dinner table. These are where real, effective conversations about Jesus take place.

If we want to see God glorified in the world through the church, discipleship must be one of our highest priorities. Making disciples who make disciples remains the surest way to grow the church. The heart of the church’s mission is making disciples who make disciples. Small groups are a good vehicle to multiply disciples. When Jesus invited twelve men into His small group, He knew that He would not be with them forever. His ultimate goal was not to remain with them but to send them out. The twelve disciples knew the goal was for each of them to go out and do what Jesus had trained them to do. Likewise, every small group should be committed to multiplication. In many small groups, you are likely to have at least one in your group who will go out and start a new group. Healthy things grow – both in quality and quantity. For the Kingdom to grow, groups must multiply.

Another advantage is the multigenerational effect. In his letter to Titus, Paul encouraged multigenerational discipleship (Titus 2:1-8). A godly older man or woman brings years of wisdom and spiritual maturity into your group. New Christians or struggling believers in your group will profit from the biblical insights shared by an older and mature follower of Christ who has walked with Jesus for many years. Sometimes senior adults feel they are no longer useful in ministry. However, when seniors are actively involved in intentional discipleship, their lives take on a new significance as they intentionally invest in others in a small group.

Investing in discipleship may be the single greatest investment we can make with our time. Consider joining or even leading a small group. 

Discussion questions:

  1. If the idea is that disciples of Jesus will in turn make more disciples of Jesus, how will that happen in your life? 
  2. Read Matthew 25:31-46. As disciples, how important are our actions in communicating our allegiance to Jesus? How do our actions effectively build the Kingdom and create more disciples for Jesus?

Why Meeting Together In Small Groups Matter

“I grew up in the church, and I always kind of knew Bible stories and knew the Sunday school answers, but when I was a freshman in high school I joined youth group, and that’s when I started to see radical love; that’s when I started to see what Christian community is supposed to look like and what fellowship is supposed to look like.” – Jeremy Lin. 

Small groups are integral parts of the church. Rick Warren said, “Small groups are not a ministry of the church, small groups are not a program of the church, small groups are not an outreach of the church, small groups are not an event of the church, small groups are the church.” Many Christians believe that while small groups are a good thing, they wonder in the grand scheme of things whether going to church on Sundays is enough: “Does it matter that I go to small groups as well?” We believe the answer is yes.

Small groups go by many different names, but they all function in the same way: they allow churchgoers and church members to have closer, more intimate relationships with others in the church. They are a place to build deep and valuable friendships with others; be a source of accountability and support on a personal level. God has designed all of us to be in relationship with one another. We will not be able to thrive and do His will without helping one another. It has become pretty common for people to move from church to church trying to find the ideal or right fit for them. They sit in service after service feeling empty on the inside, longing for something more than just a good sermon. When they don’t find the ideal they move to the next church. What they are missing is a way to get engaged with the church body. The solution for this struggle is small groups.

Taking the community group, or Bible study or discipleship, or small group out of the church and introducing it into the home brings an intimacy not found in the church.  People are more likely to share what is going on in their lives such as troubles at work or struggles with the family. Sharing a meal leads to very natural conversation and reinforces the idea that this group is a family found in Christ. Gathering and studying God’s Word gives a purposeful reason to come together and a time of prayer gives a chance to have the group pray over needs, as well as an opportunity to rally around each other and help in whatever way possible. 

Small groups have the power to radically change lives. Martha grew up in church, but circumstances led her to stray away from the faith. But then she felt something was missing so she was trying to decide whether to give church another try. But while she was making up her mind, a friend invited her to her small group.  There she experienced true family rather than just a group of acquaintances, because they truly cared for her, took time to lift her needs up in prayer, and welcomed her into their family. After several weeks Martha attended church and inquired about serving. 

This is the power of small groups. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it is a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

Discussion questions:

  1. How can small groups help us love one another in transparency, accountability, and mutual edification? Why is it important for believers to strive for this kind of community with one another? 
  2. Christian community is both a restorative work of God in the gospel and a response of believers to that work. What does that mean? 

The Large Benefits of Small Groups

“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47.

Getting involved in a small group can help enrich our lives as Christians and develop our faith.  For some, joining a small group can seem intimidating, time consuming, or simply not important compared to other obligations. Life is busy with our families, careers, and the long list of tasks we are responsible for. Committing to a small group may often fall at the bottom of one’s list of priorities for a variety of reasons.  

But, people who are part of small groups feel more connected to their church, find ways to serve, and have a support system they can depend on for prayer and encouragement. The early church provides us with rich wisdom and examples about how to connect with other believers and how to be the body of Christ. The Acts 2 passage gives us a picture of the unity and harmony that can be found among believers, and what we should strive for today.

Believers are not called to face life alone.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Long before Jesus walked this earth, the same wise message was shared with those who followed God: companionship is necessary and part of God’s design for His people. We weren’t meant to go through life alone. As we journey through life, and especially when we face battles, having fellow Christians to support us in prayer and presence can make all the difference. Other believers can walk with us as we grow and transform spiritually. A small group can be the shoulder to lean on, or the hand to hold when we’re going through a difficult situation or need biblical counsel. God is our source and strength, and He oftentimes uses other believers to bring us renewed hope and peace when times are tough.

When you become part of a small group, you will have a chance to not only be encouraged, but to encourage others who are wanting to deepen their faith and live faithfully. You will get the chance to pour into other Christians who are looking for genuine community and fellowship. As God strengthens and empowers us, we are able to invest in others and point them in the direction of a solid relationship with Jesus.

If you’ve been on the fence about becoming part of a small group at your church, consider these benefits and how the Bible instructs us and gives us wisdom about being part of an intentional community of believers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we need other people to watch over us and speak into our lives?